Dancing around the world with 'Where the Hell is Matt'

Dancing around the world with 'Where the Hell is Matt'

SEATTLE -- Matt Harding loves to share a silly dance. Maybe you've seen it.

Over the last 10 years, the Seattle man has circled the globe more than once, danced with tens of thousands of people, in hundreds of locations and made millions of people smile with his YouTube videos entitled "Where the Hell is Matt."

"The most important ingredient to the dance is a big goofy smile," Harding said as he lead a group of dancers near KOMO headquarters.

His motivation is familiar to anyone wondering if there is more to life than what they are doing. In 2005, Harding's desire to be video game designer was gone, but travel was something he "really, really loved".

While traveling with a friend in Hanoi, Vietnam, his friend told him to get in front of the video camera on a downtown street corner and do his silly little dance. The dance was already a friendly annoyance he did in front of his co-workers.

Harding obliged and did his little shuffle, lifting his legs like he's riding a bicycle while lifting his arms like a chicken. He did it in every city in Asia he visited on that trip. His friend videoed every dance.

"I thought, 'What am I going to do with all these shots?' So I strung them together in a video and put them on my website," Harding said.  

It sat there for two years and did nothing. That was in 2006. Then something came along that would change Harding's life.

"I found out about this website called YouTube," Harding said. 

He called his dance " Where the Hell is Matt." It was hit and went viral when viral wasn't just a buzz word and really meant viral. He made network TV appearances.

But traveling was expensive. Harding need someone to pay him for his efforts. That first sponsor was gum maker Stride. They saw the public relations power of what a true viral video could bring. Harding says they told him they didn't know how to do it, but he had done it.

They gave him an almost blank check sponsorship. Harding had six months to go everywhere he wanted. He crisscrossed the globe, dancing in front of famous landmarks. The video got millions of views, but something was missing.

"This is kind of territorial pissing," he said "This is what a dog does when you take him on a walk, he marks his territory. I went here, I went  here, that's not really saying anything."

While filming at school in Rwanda, something spontaneous happened that changed his videos forever.

"I went up to a bunch of kids and started dancing, the same old dance and they immediately started dancing too," Harding said.  "I didn't need to explain what I was doing or why, it didn't need to make sense. They just started dancing."

Until that moment, Harding had only been dancing in front of famous landmarks by himself. The kids brought a more interesting, warmer touch to his goofy dance.

"I had to go back to Stride and say, 'Thank you so much for letting me do this, but I did it wrong,'" Harding said.  "I need you guys to send me around the world again and this time I'm actually going to get people to dance with me."

To Harding's surprise, Stride said yes. Harding had found his secret sauce, ordinary people dancing with him.

His 2008 video featured dances from exotic lands and in some cases Harding dancing with hundreds of people at once. It got millions of views.

One of his most memorable moments was when he made it into North Korea and the day of former dictator Kim Jung Ill's birthday. To celebrate, many young North Koreans had been practicing a ceremonial dance to perform in big public squares on Kim's birthday.  Harding joined the dance as well.

"As soon as I started doing their dance, the whole crowd of North Koreans started howling, they thought it was hilarious," Harding said.

But nobody joined him. He kept on encouraging people to dance with him, not doing his silly dance but the traditional dance everyone was performing.  North Koreans are brought up not to stand out of the crowd.

"They would kind of go 'No, we are not going to dance with you. We'll laugh, we'll clap, but we are not dancing with you,'" he said.

Then one woman did. She joined Harding for the traditional dance for only 15 seconds until she was intimidated by authorities standing nearby.

"This one North Korean woman had the courage, in front of everyone, to step out of the crowd. It's moving for me to think about it,"Harding said. "I have no idea what happened to her afterward and I hope that she's OK."

Harding released a new video in 2012 after taking a four-year hiatus. With the money he's earning from the millions of views off YouTube and his own sales of his videos, he hopes to continue his dream of traveling and dancing around the world.

The message he has is that "the world is a whole lot safer and a whole lot friendlier than we are led to believe".